When day came, first the fact that the outposts had been withdrawn, and afterwards —as they came nearer —the unwonted silence filled the Romans with amazement.
Then, as it became quite evident that there was no one in the camp, there was a rush of men to the headquarters of the consuls, announcing that the enemy had retreated in such trepidation as to quit the camp without striking their tents, and had even left a great number of fires burning to conceal their flight.
Next they began to clamour for the order to advance and to pursue the enemy and plunder the camp without delay, and one of the consuls behaved like a member of the mob of soldiers.
Paulus kept insisting on the need for watchfulness and circumspection, and finally, when there was no other way in which he could withstand the mutiny and the leader of the mutiny, he sent the praefect Marius Statilius with a troop of Lucanian horse to reconnoitre.
Riding up to the gates, Statilius commanded the others to wait outside the trenches, and himself with two horsemen entered the camp. After making a [p. 341]
thorough and careful examination he reported that1
there was undoubtedly some treachery afoot.
The fires, he said, had been left on the side of the camp that faced the Romans; the tents were open and all kinds of valuables were left exposed to view; here and there he had seen silver carelessly flung down in the lanes,2
as if to tempt a pillager.
The report, which had been made with the purpose of checking the soldiers' greed, only inflamed it, and they began to shout that if the signal were not given, they would go without any leaders. But there was no lack of a leader; for Varro at once gave the command to start.
Paulus himself wished to delay; and when the sacred fowls had refused their sanction,3
he gave orders to notify his colleague, who was just setting forth with the standards from
the gate. Varro was greatly vexed at this, but the recent disaster of Flaminius and the memorable defeat at sea of the consul Claudius, in the first Punic War4
made him fearful of offending the
heavenly powers. On that day, it might almost be said, the very gods put off, but did not prevent, the calamity that impended over the Romans: for it chanced that when the consul ordered the standards back into the camp and the soldiers were refusing to obey him, two slaves appeared on the scene, one belonging to a Formian, the other to a Sidicinian knight. They had been captured by the Numidians, along with other foragers, in the consulship of Servilius and Atilius, and on that day had escaped back to
their masters. Being conducted to the [p. 343]
consuls, they stated that Hannibal's entire army was5
lying in ambush just over the
nearest hills. Their opportune arrival restored the authority of the consuls, when one of them, by running after popularity, and by unprincipled indulgence, had impaired their prestige —beginning with his own —amongst the soldiers.